iYomu: too late to beat Facebook?

iYomu logo

iYomu, that “social networking for grown ups” site I wrote about, officially launched today — with US$1M in prize money up for grabs. And I’ve just written an article for Crikey explaining why I don’t think it’ll fly. I also reckon Facebook will win out over MySpace.

My argument in the Crikey article is that the key to success on the Internet is massive, uncontrolled growth. That means attracting a lot of users fast — and then selling out to someone like Rupert Murdoch before it all implodes. The problem is, the very nature of iYomu works against that rapid growth.

  • iYomu is over-18s only. No feral-keen cyberkids, so the social networks will grow more slowly.
  • iYomu has left out the “confusing” functions that adults don’t “need”. But they’re the sizzle which attracts the geeky early adopters who spread the word. Those geeks are looking for “cool new toys” — they already have the basics like secure online file storage and an email address. They’ll “get” iYomu but they probably won’t stay.
  • iYomu is concentrating on 1-to-1 communication rather than 1-to-many. But 1-to-many is exactly what social media sites are about. Sure, the target market is more wary of putting their life online for all to see — but what’s to offer that isn’t already there in Google’s Gmail, Google Calendars etc?
  • And the key one: Facebook is there already, and growing fast. At 30 million users today, that’s 250% growth in just two weeks!

No-one wants to be the first to arrive at a party. Join iYomu today, and it’ll feel like an empty room. Join Facebook today, as I did on the weekend, and you’re bound to find at least one or two old friends straight away — and all the existing groups give you the sense that something’s happening.

(OK, it was creepy when Crikey‘s National Affairs Editor, Christian Kerr asked to become a “friend” even though we’ve never met or even exchanged email — especially since he’s worked for Christopher Pyne and his profile photo shows him in a bathtub. But as I’ve mentioned before, “friend” means something different online.)

Now MySpace is currently the biggest kid on the block with more than 200 million users. But its teenage-bedroom aesthetic won’t appeal to “mainstream” adults. As danah boyd writes in Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace:

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracised at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

Facebook does have the right look, and it’s already well-differentiated from MySpace. Facebook grew out of Harvard and appeals to the “right” people — in Australian political terms, Howard’s aspirational “battlers” with McMansions.

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honours classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

And as boyd points out:

The division is cleanest in communities where the predator panic hit before MySpace became popular. In much of the midwest, teens heard about Facebook and MySpace at the same time. They were told that MySpace was bad while Facebook was key for college students seeking to make friends at college.

The Sydney Morning Herald tells us about the MySpace man-eaters, the MySpace stalker and the MySpace suicide girls. Wow, has MySpace got an image problem!

So, Facebook is already there, growing fast, and has the “right” image to become a permanent social institution. iYomu has a lot of catching up to do — yet has built-in factors which will slow its growth.

Facebook turned down a $1.6 billion offer from Yahoo! At the time I thought that was astoundingly arrogant. Today, I must reluctantly say I think it’s spot on.

[Update 3pm: I’ve linked to the article in Crikey, but it’s subscriber-only content.]

2 Replies to “iYomu: too late to beat Facebook?”

  1. iYomu may well survive and thrive if it manages to differentiate itself sufficiently strongly and therefore appeal to enough people who are attracted to those points of differentiation.

    E.g.: 1-1 connections in iYumo would emphasise the quality of connections as opposed to the quantity.

    E.g.: this is a grown-up service makes it different from MySpace and Facebook.

    In some ways I see iYumo as a cross between Facebook and LinkedIn. BTW I find LinkedIn suffocatingly limited and all too reminiscent of corporate life (“so which box do you fit in exactly?”)

    Facebook and MySpace are still relatively undifferentiated to newbies. I have had people ask me which was “better”.

    It’ll be interesting to see where iYomu goes.

  2. @Zern: Interesting that your people couldn’t differentiate MySpace and Facebook, ‘cos I though the divide was obvious — exactly along the lines described in danah boyd’s essay.

    All these sites are toolkits for managing relationships. Do we need to coin the term “personal CRM”? The tools in MySpace toolbox are geared to music and video and saying “Hey look what I found!” The tools in Facebook are geared to saying “These are the people I work with or went to school with.” iYomu’s are more about putting your stuff online and choosing who can access it.

    Maybe iYoumu is “social networking for introverts.”

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